It's been a busy month for us all, as we get used to our new roles and continue to learn and experience lots of new things and visit new places. There has been lots of surveys, practical work, training and summer public events going on in August, so read on to see what we have been getting up to...
August got off to a great start as I got to spend the day at Ubley Warren with the Magnificent Meadows volunteers. After a morning of ragwort pulling, Pippa helped us identify some wildflowers, bees and butterflies, Neil managed to find a common newt and I saw my first adder!
I spent a few days in Harridge Woods along with James and volunteers Adel and Andy helping to watch for people on the path as contractors Rob and Jodi scaled the rock face to clear any loose rocks. This is done to reduce the risk of any rocks falling off the cliff faces and onto the path.
I have been honing my routing skills, taking over from Beth on the Harridge nature trail posts. Routing in a straight line on a round post is as hard as it sounds! The East Mendip volunteers have already put some of the posts into place ready for the new nature trail at Harridge Woods and I’m helping Liz out finding some photos for the new leaflet.
Showing off my routing skills!
During the month I also got to visit Catcott Reserve in the Brue Valley, and spent a day working with the reserves assistant Phil and volunteer John preparing timber for the new boardwalk. It was interesting finding out about the management of a wetland site, and whilst I was there we had to pump water out of one of the fields to enable tractor access for the hay cut. Walking around the reserve we managed to see a grass snake, Brimstone butterfly and a water beetle (I’m still unsure which one though!)
Grass snake Unknown water beetle
Getting more practice on the brushcutter I have been clearing access tracks and pathways and controlling bracken on several reserves and also perfecting my ragwort pulling technique. A few of the reserves have quite a lot of ragwort and it is important it gets pulled before it seeds and spreads or any inquisitive livestock start to eat it!
At the end of August I joined Dave Cottle and the Somerset bat group for a walk around the Bishops Palace in Wells. It was a really good night and we managed to see Lesser Horseshoe bats and hear Common Pipistrelle, Daubentons and Serotine bats using the bat detectors.
Mark, my mentor was on leave for much of the month so instead I was working with David and Ian on their reserves. This meant visiting some very different and interesting sites such as Brimley Mire and Yarty Moor. Acidic mire flushes formed when groundwater seeping through the green sands typical of this area, hits impermeable clay and runs out creating waterlogged areas; with distinctively acid loving species like Sundews, Bog Asphodel and the rarer Yellow Bartsia, amongst purple moor grass and patches of heather and sphagnum mosses.
The majority of the reserves are in the Blackdown Hills to the south-west of Taunton, and which have an amazing ability to intercept the weather. No matter the conditions in the rest of Somerset, the Blackdowns seem reliably covered in cloud, rain, fog or all of the above! So I have variously brushcut rides at Jan Hobbs Copse in drizzle, Boon’s Copse in intermittent showers and Quants in a persistent downpour. But at least I know my waterproofs work... when I bring them...
A beautiful late summers day on the Black Downs Ride at Jan Hobbs Copse after cutting and raking - one
day I'll remember to do a before shot!
I’ve got in some four by four driving in the pickups, mainly on road although I did drive up the access path to Dundon Beacon to do some repairs where our hay-cut contractor had slipped into (and demolished half of) the gatepost in the wet. It was dry when I went up however so no alarms and no surprises.
I’ve also been involved with several site visits with contractors: to thin out trees in Aller wood and for some access work to reduce waterlogging on the ride system in Great Breach Wood as well as a meeting with arb instructors from Hi-line to identify any trees suitable for rope and harness training purposes and which we would benefit from having removed.
Reed bed at White Fields after cutting and raking... ...and the resultant 14 million tonnes of reed after being
pitchorked up! (Give or take a few million tonnes - I get hazy
with the details, but those piles are getting on for 6 feet high!
What with shore surveys, dormouse box checks and bat walks, as well as more botany, August has been a busy month. I had a fantastic start to the month down on the coast with Ben and Nigel, assisting with family Shore Search events. The weather stayed fine, and we had a good haul of sightings, including Spider crabs, Brittle Stars, Snakelocks Anemones and Sun Starfish, amongst many other interesting creatures hidden under the rocks at Porlock Weir and Minehead. I think I learnt just as much as the kids who came along, and it was great to see them so enthusiastic.
I also spent a day with Lila and Chris (last year’s Surveying & Monitoring trainee) doing an ‘Integrated Habitat Survey’ on the Mendips something that will have to be second nature to me by this time next year! I also had a bit more training on identifying calcareous plants on the Polden Hills with the Blackdown Natural Futures trainees and Liz Biron, so I am slowly getting a bit more botany ID skills under my belt.
A couple of days in August were spent checking Dormouse boxes at the Perch SSSI with the Somerset Mammal Group, to begin working towards my Dormouse licence. On the first occasion, I saw my first dormouse, and the second time out we even got a peep at a mother’s tiny babies. Other rodents like to nest in these boxes, and I have now seen wood mice, yellow-necked mice (who are quite aggressive and tend to bite!), a pigmy shrew and field voles. Although these species are not protected, unlike the dormouse, it is still interesting to see these little creatures so close up.
This month I also participated in the Brue Big Bat survey, organised by SERC. This involved walking four miles along footpaths, through fields and avoiding galloping cows (and cow pats!) at night, whilst holding a bat detector and trying not to fall over. Luckily I was with a couple of other more experienced people, as I didn’t have a clue what all the noises were that the detectors were picking up to begin with. I must have learnt something though; when I went out on a much more leisurely evening bat walk in Dunster Park, I could tell the difference between the sound of a Myotis bat and a Serotene. That particular evening was fantastic for watching bats feeding, as they were very happily flying less than a metre or two above our heads at times. To top it off, the view of the beautiful dusky pink sky at sunset over Dunster was magnificent, marking a wonderful end to August.
August for me and the other community engagement trainees across the southwest began with a week in a forest in Wiltshire completing our Forest School Level 3 training. This was definitely a highlight of the traineeship so far!
All the community trainees - hidden beneath the camo paint!
We got to learn what forest school actually is - it is not a site, a set of activities or rules; but is an ethos, a way of working that has no predetermined outcomes, is all about the process not the outcome and is child led. We then spent the week learning how to assist in forest school sessions, by learning how the children would! We learnt how to make fires, light Kelly kettles, create woodland objects and play games. Our spare time was spent whittling wood, doing yoga and practising our woodland ID skills, and I returned from the week having learnt a lot, yet feeling very well rested and relaxed! I now have a portfolio to complete by December and am looking forward to practising what I have learnt over the coming months.
My woodland creations! - a mallet,
a spatula, name badge and kazoo! Mine and Jacks rather cosy den!
Hedgehogs on a tightrope! Otherwise Jack and I successfully lit a fire from
known as common rush all natural materials!
The rest of the month I have been kept busy with some meadows in the landscape events for the ‘Save our Magnificent Meadows’ project, where we have worked alongside an art project called Step in Stone to do guided walks around Halecombe and West Down quarries in the Mendips, that combine both art and nature. Hopefully they inspired some lovely meadow themed artwork!
I have also attended several wild play events in Yeovil Country Park, which were aimed at families with children with disabilities. We offered drop in activities such as pond dipping, shelter building and mini beast hunting, as well as crafts such as making elder jewellery and pebble creatures. And I have to say I went home with quite a menagerie of pebble creatures myself!
Thanks for reading, and come back next month to see what we're getting up to!